When I was a child, my grandmother would often go to our local mall before it opened and walk laps around both floors. If ever I went there to shop in the morning hours, I was sure to see her at some point on her rounds. One day, while walking at the mall, she fell and broke her shoulder. After months of healing, she never went back. I often thought it strange that she let a fall keep her from returning to an activity she so faithfully enjoyed.
Since then, I've experienced various things in my life that have given me pause. Whether it was breaking my arm roller skating and not wanting to put on skates again or being hurt by a friend and finding it difficult to trust others, I now understand what kept my grandmother from returning to her walks around the mall. It's hard not to look at present experiences through the lens of the past. It's hard not to react to difficult circumstances by building protective walls and barriers to keep out future hardship. It's hard not to react to the pains of life with avoidance, control, or fear.
Reactions to Life
There are many things that happen to us in our life that we react to. It could be something as simple as a fall or as complex and heartbreaking as losing someone we love. When painful circumstances cut into our lives, we remember that pain and work to keep it from happening again. Makes sense, right? Who wouldn't want a repeat of some hardship?
Yet in our efforts to protect ourselves from future harm, we may avoid things, places, and circumstances. In the face of the unknown and uncertain, we might be over-protective, cautious, and fearful. Our decisions, goals, and plans center around what we worry could happen. We may even attempt to control all the details of our lives in the hopes that we can keep ourselves and the ones we love safe from harm.
Many of us also develop life habits and patterns out of reaction to the circumstances in our lives. These patterns can take many forms and be unique to each of us. From the things we choose to eat or not eat, to the places we live or don't live; from the relationships we keep or don't keep, to the way we spend or don't spend our money; from the way we keep our homes to the way we raise our children; from the way we express ourselves to the way we use our time—all of these things can develop as reactions to the circumstances of our lives.
I've seen this time and again in my own life. Whether it's being extra cautious with my children's health after having gone through two surgeries with them or being slow to trust people because of being hurt in the past, I too live a reactionary life. I expect the worst, avoid failure at all costs, and am always on the lookout for the next disaster to roll in and crash into my life.
Though we are often reactionary to the circumstances of life, thankfully, God doesn't react to us. He doesn't say "Oh, she's being too rebellious, I better tighten those reigns and take away all the good things in her life." He doesn't look at our weak faith, our doubts, our worries, and give up on us, give us the silent treatment, or a guilt trip. He doesn't react to our ongoing battles with sin in vengeance or wrath.
For those who are in Christ, God doesn't react to us. He responds.
He responded by sending his Son.
Jesus came as the answer to sin. He came to do what we could not do, perfectly obey God in every thought, word, and deed. He came to face our greatest fears and bear our deepest sorrows. He came in response to our reactionary lives where we try to do life on our own, attempt to be our own gods and goddesses, and try to control everything that happens to us. He came to set us free.
Because of Jesus, we don't have to live reactionary lives. We don't have to always be on edge, worrying about our safety and security. We don't have to be motivated by fear of reliving past experiences. We don't have to always put other people to the test, to see if they really are trustworthy. We don't have to always expect the worst.
The reality is, living a reactionary life is not really living at all. Always being on alert and filled with fears and worry about the future steals our joy from the present. Being over-protective, controlling, and on edge doesn't actually do anything to change our circumstances. When we build our lives around what could happen, we fail to trust the One who made us, who loves us, and who suffered and died for us.
Instead of reacting to life, we too can respond. We can respond to what Christ has done for us in love, worship, and trust. We can rest and cease our striving to make our lives work. We can give Christ all our burdens, sorrows, and fears. We can believe that his intentions toward us are good and are for our good. And if it comes, we can accept a trial because we know that God is sovereign and that he knows just what we need. We can endure rejection from others because we know Christ was rejected for our sake. We can face the heartaches and sorrows of this world, knowing that nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ.
If you've lived a reactionary life for far too long, look to Christ. Stand at the foot of the cross and see his response to your sin, sorrow, suffering, and shame. Repent of how you have reacted to life and pray for grace to respond in trust. Receive God's response of grace to you with joy and gladness. Relish with wonder the peace he gives that passes all understanding. And give thanks to the One who will never react toward you but always responds with love and grace.